Twenty-four verses of First John? Really? Sure enough, this citation is given in the Rite of Penance, number 170. In the Lectionary, this passage is spread in the daily Lectionary from today to the Monday after Epiphany.
If you want a look at 1 John 3:1-2, I recommend the funeral Lectionary post from last year.
The theme of hate in verses 14-16 is picked up in another funeral Lectionary passage, blogpost here.
Verses 18 through 24 of this passage also appear in the wedding Lectionary.
Rather than expound on the whole piece, and possibly repeat myself from one of those other posts, I thought I’d take a look at a set of verses at the end of today’s first reading:
Everyone who commits sin commits lawlessness,
for sin is lawlessness.
You know that he was revealed to take away sins,
and in him there is no sin.
No one who remains in him sins;
no one who sins has seen him or known him. (1 John 3:4-6)
This seems pretty straightforward. But avoiding sin is a bit harder than making a human, willful choice to be good. What can we do? We attend to the revelation of Christ in our lives. We throw ourselves on his mercy. We do our best, counting on God to fill the gap between what we know we should do, and the sins we commit despite our intentions.
Verse 5 seems especially appropriate in the Christmas season as we approach Epiphany.
(Christ) was revealed to take away sins.
The Jesuit Peter van Breemen discussed this in his book The God Who Won’t Let Go.
Authentic contrition grows in us when we focus on God rather than ourselves. There can be an awareness of guilt that is too much taken up with self. That is not healthy and not what God desires. In scripture, the awareness of our sins is not meticulously detailed. It finds its source in the encounter with God.
Fr van Breemen suggests three examples. He recalls Peter’s confession (Luke 5:8) when confronted with the miraculous catch of fish. He cites Isaiah’s reaction to the vision of angels and glory in the Temple (Isaiah 6:5). He suggests the most appropriate place to encounter the Lord and come face to face with one’s own self-awareness is the cross.
The visit of the Magi is a long way from Calvary. But in this Christmas season, if our focus is not yet on the cross, perhaps the child in the manger is another opportunity. Jesus was revealed to Israel/shepherds (25 December) and to the gentiles/Magi (6 January). The reason why he was revealed is to take away sins, according to 1 John 3:5. Should we take this literally?
When we come before the image of the infant Jesus, do we take inspiration less from the cute, and more from the vulnerability? God’s choice to become vulnerable–does that not touch us? Christ’s moment of death and powerlessness–that certainly can bring us to our knees. But what of the moment of the Nativity?
Whatever image of Jesus remains with us, at whatever time of the year, perhaps we have a simple prayer to utter, “You were revealed to take away sins. My sins. My God, have mercy on me.”
And we can pray that any time of the year, can’t we?